By: Dustin Granberry
The hour is late for 2015. E3 and Gamescom have come and gone, and we're soon to be kicking off the robust Fall gaming season with Metal Gear Solid 5 and Mad Max. The scorching summer heat is dying down, the children are returning to school, and I'm once again inevitably going to go bankrupt trying to keep up with the exorbitant amount of games releasing over the coming months. It seems however, that new games aren't the only thing I'll have to keep up with this fall. Microsoft, in a completely unexpected move, announced at E3 that backwards compatibility is coming to the Xbox One. Slated for a November release date, it will feature over 100 playable titles at launch, including Mass Effect, Fallout 3, and all four Gears of War games, with more rolling out in the following months.
When I first learned of this announcement, I couldn't believe it. They had said it couldn't be done, and yet here it was, looking us right in the face. What could Sony possibly do to top that? Well, little did I know Sony had an ace or two up their sleeve as well. Regardless, these two titans fought valiantly, and I have never had a more difficult time deciding who I thought deserved the trophy than I did this year. Fans on both sides rose up to defend their console of choice, but in the end, I couldn't get that one little announcement that Microsoft made earlier in the day out of the back of my mind.
I'm fully aware that backwards compatibility is nothing new, and yet, it seems different this time around. Perhaps it's because the Xbox 360 has been on the market for a decade this year, and our libraries are more extensive than ever before. Or, perhaps it's because in an era where Steam is looking more and more like the ideal gaming platform, it's satisfying to see Microsoft attempt to create their own ecosystem, where upgrading your hardware doesn't necessarily mean losing your software. Perhaps it's a little of both. Whatever your view on the subject, I feel as though this gives Microsoft an edge at a time when they need it the most.
Microsoft has been playing catch up with Sony since they announced the Xbox One, and when Sony proceeded to rip Microsoft apart at E3 2013, the stage was set. Things went just as expected, and Sony coasted off of Microsoft's mistakes, right into the title of one of the fastest selling consoles of all time. As of July 2015, Sony has sold over 25 million PS4's worldwide. Microsoft hasn't released up to date numbers, but they are estimated to have sold around 14 million Xbox Ones in the same period. Needless to say, they have quite a lot of ground to cover. However, the landscape is changing. Sony's lackluster exclusive lineup this fall provides an excellent opportunity for Microsoft to close the gap, and backwards compatibility is just the cherry on top. Forza 6, Halo 5, and Rise of the Tomb Raider not whetting your appetite? Maybe a free copy of Fallout 3 with your purchase of Fallout 4 will suffice? Or perhaps all four Gears of War games with the purchase of Gears Ultimate Edition will be more to your liking? You see where I'm going with this, and Microsoft is going to continue to offer these kinds of deals as long as the publishers allow.
Speaking of publishers, it's completely up to them if their game is to be made available for backwards compatibility. So as you can imagine, if there's a remastered version of a game currently available on Xbox One, the publisher won't allow backwards compatibility of the game, as it could impact the sales of the remaster. Aside from that, Microsoft has said most publishers have been cooperative, except for Activision, who has been quiet on the subject, despite the fact that Black Ops 2 is the most requested backwards compatible game. I assume letting us play previous iterations of Call of Duty would negatively impact the annual cycle.
I often wonder what percentage of PS4 owners jumped ship from the Xbox camp when they upgraded to the current generation hardware, like about a dozen of my friends and I did. If all of us made the transition, then surely there were others. Well, now I'm starting to think, what if all of those people could have played their Xbox 360 games on their Xbox Ones? Would they still have jumped ship? Some still would have, but Microsoft is trying to reel in those of us that would have stayed. I own both consoles, but most people aren't so lucky and have to decide between one or the other. That means former Xbox fans who converted might trade in their PS4's for something that could potentially offer them more value through backwards compatibility, and if you haven't upgraded yet and you're on the fence, this fall will likely push you right into Microsoft's lush green lawn. Not to mention the fact that backwards compatibility essentially renders Sony's almost $400 million acquisition of Gaikai, the service they were going to use for Playstation Now, practically useless. Keep in mind that Sony is not in a position financially to make such mistakes.
Microsoft is bringing it's A game in the next 12 months, and I for one cannot wait to see Sony's rebuttal. Will Sony's barren lineup this fall mean neck and neck competition next year, or is Xbox just too far behind for it to matter? I choose the former.
Remember, when the race gets this heated, there's only one true winner: the gamer.